Humor Pseudoscience & Religion

Karen Armstrong’s ‘The Case For God’ (or) Why Science Makes My Head Hurt

Thanks to Karen Armstrong, the author of The Case for God, we religious people FINALLY have a powerful strategy for combating reason. Contrary to its title, the book does not make a case for God at all. The story Ms. Armstrong lays out is, in actuality, the most succulent red herring that we can throw down to protect religion from critical thought. This is the basic idea: Atheism causes religious fundamentalism.

According to Ms. Armstrong, before science came on the scene people did not have any desire to know the ‘facts’ about reality. All pre-enlightenment Christians viewed the stuff in the Bible about Adam and Eve, the devil, the queers, the adulterers and the son of god, as metaphors for states of emotional well-being. They assigned no factual significance to all of this, until the atheists came along and forced some religious people to start understanding the scriptures as literal truth. Thus, atheists (and science itself) gave birth to religious fundamentalism!  The same goes for all the world’s religions. Thanks for your awesome revisionism, Ms. Armstrong. In my religious apologetics I have always wanted to employ Karl Rove’s strategy of going for your opponent’s strength while ignoring the facts.

Of course it is the new atheism that is responsible for religious literalism. Without people shoving facts down our throats why would anyone ever feel the need for any answers to fundamental questions about the nature of reality? Religion was never a response to primitive man’s quest towards understanding the natural world. If it weren’t for these sciencey types, we could all just get along without wasting time looking for ‘facts’ that could help us understand the universe. We could all just accept that inner intuition is the only true way of understanding anything, and leave it at that. This is what all religious people did before science came along with its ‘facts’ and numbers.

Ms. Armstrong writes in the November/December issue of Foreign Policy magazine,

“…it was the empirical emphasis of modern science that encouraged many to regard God and religious language as fact rather than symbol, thus forcing religion into an overly rational, dogmatic, and alien literalism.”

the-case-for-god-by-karen-armstrong_image_lowresMs. Armstrong understands that the best way to defend religion from fact-based criticism is to divorce religion of facts. In the process, we must also ignore the norms of fact-based debate while inventing arguments for use against atheists. Kudos, Ms. Armstrong, for your dexterity at cherry-picking the aspects of religion that appeal to us progressive believers, and for belittling literalistic versions of religion as being a reaction to science, while actually coming up with the best reaction to science there is- ignoring reality!

A significant portion of the book is devoted to establishing how religions make us human, by pointing to the essential facts about culture and society that religious institutions have absorbed into themselves. Karen Armstrong writes with spiritual conviction about all the social, emotional and developmental support that religion provides to us, while decreeing that all the bad stuff in religion comes from atheism! Not only is religion vital, but anything bad about religion arises because of the criticism of religion. Brilliant! The Organization of the Islamic conference must have had something similar in mind when they petitioned the UN to ban blasphemy because it causes religious violence. Instead of getting religious fundamentalists to be tolerant of appropriate criticism when they get their facts wrong, we must attempt to abolish all forms of rational criticism of our religious beliefs. This will make religious fundamentalism disappear. The Muslims will embrace the Jews, and so on.

Here is another quote from Ms. Armstrong:

“Homo sapiens is also Homo religiosus. As soon as we became recognizably human, men and women started to create religions. We are meaning-seeking creatures. While dogs, as far as we know, do not worry about the canine condition or agonize about their mortality, humans fall very easily into despair if we don’t find some significance in our lives. Theological ideas come and go, but the quest for meaning continues. So God isn’t going anywhere. And when we treat religion as something to be derided, dismissed, or destroyed, we risk amplifying its worst faults. Whether we like it or not, God is here to stay, and it’s time we found a way to live with him in a balanced, compassionate manner.”

This is such a refreshing way of ignoring science to make the amazingly insightful point that human beings need meaning. It’s true that all over the world secular humanists have long promoted social alternatives to replace old institutionalized superstitions, but we must ignore these kinds of atheists and focus our ire on the few atheists who dare to criticize our institutions. If we can get the humanists to condemn the criticism of religion that comes from those atheists who are primarily anti-religion, we can continue to keep secular humanism itself irrelevant. Actually acknowledging that a secular moral education can impart a limitless sense of wonder and meaning in life is dangerous to our agenda. So, Ms. Armstrong is right to criticize atheism for leading to fundamentalism in religion and removing meaning from human existence. People need to see that atheists are nothing but mean-spirited folks who are obsessive compulsive about ‘facts’. Atheists are, obviously, one-dimensional. Atheism cannot offer any meaning. It’s true that atheism is simply a non-belief, like aunicornism, and there are other fact-based ways of giving life meaning, but if we keep the focus on atheists and ignore the secular humanists, the latter will never have a chance to show religious folk that there are perhaps better and more meaningful ways of perceiving human existence and our place in the universe.

Karen Armstrong’s strategy seems to be working already.A number of secular humanists have come out criticizing the “New Atheists” for being too abrasive towards religion. Great job, Ms. Armstrong, for getting the humanists to do our work for us.

I am emboldened by Ms.Armstrong’s courage to go after the giants of atheism,

“…in claiming that God is the source of all human cruelty, Hitchens and Dawkins ignore some of the darker facets of modern secular society, which has been spectacularly violent because our technology has enabled us to kill people on an unprecedented scale.”

The hyperbole in representing Hitchens and Dawkins’ view of God as the source of all human cruelty may be considered a straw man argument in some circles, but I see exactly where you are going with this one, Ms. Armstrong. If we let it be known that these men actually have a more complex, compassionate and complete view of human morality, the cat is out of the bag. It works to our advantage if we present these so-called leaders of the new atheism as ignorant of all deep human affairs. It must be true, since after all, atheists have no meaning or purpose in their lives.

In conclusion, Karen Armstrong does more for religion by attacking any criticism of the idea of God as ill-posed, while presenting her book as an actual argument for God. In essence, Ms. Armstrong has shifted the argument from why it matters that understanding the ‘facts’ about religion, god and belief are important, to why such analysis of ‘facts’ is dangerous. I recommend that you go out and purchase this book if you, like me, feel that the debate between science and religion is best presented as a black and white dichotomy with no shades of grey, or red or purple.

About the author

Ajita Kamal

33 Comments

  • I think the best response to such a book will be to IGNORE it altogether. Why should you bother to comment on it at all? There are better ways of spending one’s time.

    • Very often the social good that comes out of addressing such books critically can be greater than that which comes out of thinking about many serious subjects.

      • Dear Ajita,

        You make it sound that religious people are some sort of fiends out to get the secular humanists by mistaking them to be athiests.

        “Atheism cannot offer any meaning. It’s true that atheism is simply a non-belief, like aunicornism, and there are other fact-based ways of giving life meaning, but if we keep the focus on atheists and ignore the secular humanists, the latter will never have a chance to show religious folk that there are perhaps better and more meaningful ways of perceiving human existence and our place in the universe.”

        Karen is only relating a fact that human beings have ben with conscious effort (and without any conscious effort…. my take) been “religious’ for all the million years of their existence.

        If there are secular humanists who have worked out better theories for a harmonious life, are they not free to declare their charters?

        Are there some religious groups holding them to ransom, or threatening them physically or intellectually?

        To an unbiased thinker like me the ‘Nasadiya Sukta’ of vedas is the ultimate cosmology which may hold more answers than the string theory or Higgins Boson etc.

        To a secular humanist it may be the biggest threat to the rational thought.

        The fact that human beings have sought meaning to their lives without attempting to spend 100 billion dollars in scientific experiments, makes me awestruck.

        It makes me equally annoyed that some people think that belief in a particular type of GOD seen by a particular originator of particular religion must be worshipped by all, or else they deserve to be liquidated.

        If an atheist fights such groups, one can understand it. How can a secular humanist fight a thought like ‘Nasadiya Sukta’ which is more akin to a profound theorem about the possible origin of this vast universe.

        Whether such aphorism or ‘Sukta’ is right or wrong should be decided by scientific investigations. To call it names in the name of rationality, surely is not the scientific method, I hope.

        sincerely
        Ravi Khardekar

        • Some religious people, sir, not all are fiends out to get us. In all seriousness, I’m not against religious people, just against the ideological group-identities that they subscribe to.

          Armstrong goes beyond suggest simply that there have been religious people for a long time. If that was all she had said, I would not have written this article.

          I think you missed my point with bringing up secular humanism. Atheism is not meant to provide the sort of replacement to mythical religion that Armstrong blames it for doing. THAT is why I brought up Secular Humanism. It is a common straw-man argument to go after something for a claim that is entirely different from the one that it makes. In attacking atheism as being incomplete and lacking a moral value system, Armstrong is presenting a straw-man. It is like attacking aunicornism for the economic recession.

          Armstrong may go after science for presenting a different fact-based view of reality from the one that religions present, but she must be honest to her readers if she wants to talk about the social and moral alternatives that should be made available to us in the absence of superstition.

  • You are right. What I had in mind was something that happens in science quite often. Suppose somebody comes up with a bad theory or hypothesis. Either it may get killed by Editors when submitted for publication; or, if it does get published, the scientists just ignore it by not commenting on it at all. This is how bad research papers die a natural death, with no assistance from anybody. When we deign to comment on something in print, it implies that we deem it worthy of comment. You apparently believe that this book is indeed worthy of comment, in spite of all the outrageous statements it makes.

    • “if it does get published, the scientists just ignore it by not commenting on it at all. ”

      This is not true, nor is it effective. Bad ideas must have light shone on them so that they wither.

      See the recent case of a really bad idea sneaking its way into a science journal, and then being thrashed by a knowledgeable critic. Several critics also thrashed the staff of the journal for having lax standards.

      See: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/10/29/controversal-paper-on-origins-of-caterpillars-debunked/

      Silence is too easily mistaken for consent. Bad ideas must be confronted. I agree with you, however, that it is important to confront them in the right medium. Ajita’s blog is a great medium for thrashing Karen Armstrong’s book. Writing a long philosophical treatise on her book would be giving it too much respect.

    • Dr. Wadhawan,

      I was in a rush when I replied previously. Let me explain a bit more.

      Firstly, you are right about the nature of the medium. The process of scientific acceptance of ideas is a lot more meritocratic than that of religious mumbo-jumbo. We are dealing with popular culture here.

      Secondly, there is the larger issue of desiring pluralism in the freethought movement. I happen to think that there is a need for a diverse multi-dimensional effort in combating superstition and irrationality. There seems to be a recent trend within the freethought movement towards criticizing others withing the movement, without realizing that there are many aspects to this whole thing. Much of this comes from confusing the ethical (emotional) aspects with the factual aspects. As long as we agree about the facts, the rest is just opinion. You may be aware that right now there is a much-publicized online disagreement between self-identified atheists and humanists. I think that this is misguided, primarily because of the two sides not observing the values-facts dichotomy that I mention above. I hope this clears up my position.

      • The worst thing that can happen to a paper published by a scientist is that nobody refers to it. Similarly, the worst thing that can happen to a new book is that nobody talks about it. A book gets publicity even when it is strongly criticized. Therefore ‘no comments’ can also be used as a strategy for fighting irrationalism. We all have only a limited amount of time at our disposal. Therefore the way we ration out our time for various activities is important. Personally, I am inclined to spend it to highlight the strengths of rationalism, rather than going after irrationalism with hammer and tong. But, as you said, all approaches have a role to play.

        I agree with you about the need to highlight the factual aspects of things. And facts is what science is all about. Spreading the scientific spirit in a country like ours is not an easy task. Perhaps we should begin by targeting people who are scientists by profession. We should try to draw them out from their ‘closets’. As Vaibhav rightly said in a recent post here, science does not tell you what to think; it tells you how to think.

        Thanks a lot for your comments anyway. For me, you are the biggest attraction about this website.

        • You are right again about the amount of time we all have to spend on such things. That is one aspect of the whole thing that does indeed bother me. I think I may not have been clear about what I meant when I said this lies in the popular culture. You say “Similarly, the worst thing that can happen to a new book is that nobody talks about it”. This is very true. Unfortunately, lots and lots of people ARE talking about it. That is precisely the reason why I am talking about it. Karen Armstrong is extremely popular among moderates. Her book is currently poised as the single greatest weapon for use against freethought. Every single nation-wide media source in the US has reviewed her book, and many of them favorably. She has been on every ‘religion-friendly’ radio show on NPR (National Public Radio) in the US. Of course, it will not make headway with other atheists, but that’s not who this is for.

          If a terrible book is already receiving a lot of attention, then criticism of it is required, I feel. Ignoring it leaves only the favorable reviews out there. We can draw an analogy to Narendra Nayak’s work, traveling into villages to debunk superstitions. There is no one representing this view to those villagers, and Narendra is certainly not wasting his time.

          Finally, I happen to think that Armstrong’s message is very dangerous. It is part of the liberal, progressive usurpment of science’s stregths that is more dangerous to science in the long run than fundamentalist religion is. This form of religion is growing faster than all other kinds, mainly because it is not anathema to evolving in response to change (because it is so good at ignoring facts that divide it from other forms of religious delusion). I will talk about this at some later time.

          Meanwhile, thank you for your compliment. I honestly think that you and others here are much more important to this site.

  • There are a couple of points from this book that I think have something to them.
    She argues that since the time of ancient Greeks two realms of intellectual endeavor had been recognized: “Logos” and “Mythos”. Logos stands for reason, while mythos stands for myths, legends and other ways of thinking that we come up with but don’t know how to reason about. She says many civilizations viewed these two as independent realms of thought and were comfortable living with that view.
    Another point she makes is that for a long time, throughout history, people did not use the term “God” to represent any thing that has any physical existence. It was a name (an indirection) to represent the unknown and provided a way to think about the unknown.

    • Thanks for your comment, Krishna. The points you raise are precisely the points that are contested. In both cases, the truth is actually the exact opposite of what Armstrong writes. Firstly, in most religious traditions that dominated culture before science entered the conversation, the Mythos and Logos were intertwined and often confusedly lumped under a singular way of viewing reality. With science in the picture, we are aware now that they are indeed separate. One is concerned with facts and the other with emotions. These are two distinct aspects of reality, one objective and the other subjective. We know that now BECAUSE of science, not despite it as Karen Armstrong distractingly implies.
      The other point you bring up- that ‘throughout history, people did not use the term “God” to represent any thing that has any physical existence” is the main point that is under criticism. In fact, Armstrong says this about all of religion, not just about god. Anyone can cherry-pick from the volumes of religious writing to find evidence that fits the idea that god is sometimes understood metaphorically by some elite theologians, but to claim this about the general public is so patently false that it is laughable. No serious student of history can say this about any religion or group of peoples in the world. In fact, it is the advancement of rational thought that leads people like Armstrong to NOT view god as a literal entity, because you would have to be really really stupid to do so in light of the evidence from science.

      • God is too complex a subject for every body.

        Theologians are as clue less about this as any ordinary believer.

        Sant Tukaram in 16th century declared boldly, that most brahmins have been wasting their time in debates: Tuka Mhane vaade, Vyrtha geli Brahma vrunde.

        There was hardly any science of modern type in evidence than.

        He also gave his version of reality in very confident terms.

        Kabir’s knowledge was epitome of all vedantin thoughts. He was critical of proponents (thekedars mor aptly) of popular religion but had lot of sympathy ( karuna ) for simple folks who wanted to know God.

        This God of Kabir was definitely not limited version God that Ajita has objection to.

        I do science at reasonably creditable level professionally. I know for sure that science at subtlest levels is as profound as any thing akin to an ethereal God.

        The wonderful part is not that the billion dollar budget and million trained scientists can unravel every thing about nature.

        Most wonderful thing is that an illiterate man mending shoes or weaving cloth can claim to know the nature at its most fundamental level.

        This is a different matter altogether from the fundamentalism that we are more familiar with in recent years.

        • very well said….one who can understand the esoterism of it all n experiences, is far far better off than the constant fundamentalistic ‘theist vs atheist’ bickerings n debates !

          • One who makes pretend that all ideas are equally true is farther from the truth than the religious fundamentalist.

  • I am not sure about the impact of the likes of Karen. Sometimes I feel that they are helping promote rational thinking rather than going against it. I’ve read a couple of books by her — one on History of God and a biography on Prophet Mohammed. My take is that if a regular believer reads those kind of books (by ‘regular believer’, I mean the kind who believes that visiting Tirupati every year brings them prosperity, but who immediately cancels his plans when he hears of a Swine Flu death in Tirupati), they will realize that the Prophets are regular humans and their actions probably were not really guided by revelations from God. And the next logical step in due course of time is to realize that God is a human creation.

    On the other hand, I look at the Hindu believers who gladly reconcile a great God like Shiva mercilessly chopping off his son’s head.

    What do others think?

  • Some of the crew who flew the planes that bombed and vaporised Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were religious. So were they being atheistic when the dropped the bomb and religious if and when they turned contrite?

  • Thanks for your comment, Krishna. The points you raise are precisely the points that are contested. In both cases, the truth is actually the exact opposite of what Armstrong writes. Firstly, in most religious traditions that dominated culture before science entered the conversation, the Mythos and Logos were intertwined and often confusedly lumped under a singular way of viewing reality. With science in the picture, we are aware now that they are indeed separate. One is concerned with facts and the other with emotions. These are two distinct aspects of reality, one objective and the other subjective. We know that now BECAUSE of science, not despite it as Karen Armstrong distractingly implies.
    The other point you bring up- that ‘throughout history, people did not use the term “God” to represent any thing that has any physical existence” is the main point that is under criticism. In fact, Armstrong says this about all of religion, not just about god. Anyone can cherry-pick from the volumes of religious writing to find evidence that fits the idea that god is sometimes understood metaphorically by some elite theologians, but to claim this about the general public is so patently false that it is laughable. No serious student of history can say this about any religion or group of peoples in the world. In fact, it is the advancement of rational thought that leads people like Armstrong to NOT view god as a literal entity, because you would have to be really really stupid to do so in light of the evidence from science.

    • “Anyone can cherry-pick from the volumes of religious writing to find evidence that fits the idea that god is sometimes understood metaphorically by some elite theologians, but to claim this about the general public is so patently false that it is laughable.”

      Even the majority of the ‘elite’ believed in a non-metaphorical god. One need only utter a single word to destroy Armstrong’s historical revisionism: Inquisition!

      “Do you confess your crime of metaphorical ‘witchcraft’, and submit to the mythical ‘Jesus’, symbolic ‘Son’ of our metaphorical ‘Lord’? Or shall we continue with the torture before we burn you alive?”

  • Excellent critique of Armstrong’s ridiculous book. Your use of humour and satire was pitch-perfect.

    Honestly, I think Armstrong will ultimately fail to rally her troops to put up any serious fight against unapologetic atheism. She will fade into irrelevance. Her position amounts to: Nobody can make any claims about ‘God’, therefore …. Therefore what?! Her god is so empty it’s hysterically funny. Talk about the Emperor who has no clothes! See PZ Myers’ excellent article at http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/the_courtiers_reply.php

    • Thanks, Wonderist. You may be right about Armstrong’s readers not putting up a real fight against atheists. On the other hand, it may be that the real purpose here is to get all religious traditions working together against reason, by getting believers to ignore the factual differences between them and pretend that all religions are metaphorical. In essence, creating New Religionists.

  • This response profoundly misunderstands Karen Armstrong’s arguments. This isn’t a fair portrayal. As far as I understand her arguments, the criticisms presented here don’t seem to touch upon what she actually writes about.

    Armstrong’s books are very scholarly. She isn’t against rationality and science. What she supports is making subtle intellectual distinctions in order to create a rational context to discuss otherwise non-rational issues. She backs her arguments with historical evidence which is the best one can do when trying to analyze the development of religion and society. And nothing she states contradicts any known scientific facts or theories.

    Armstrong offers great insight into the religious mind. Her explanation of the origins of literalist fundamentalism make more sense to me than any argument I’ve come across.

    Her argument is that a new way of thinking about religion arose with the Axial Age. In particular, this involved the ability to think metaphorically. But I don’t think she disagrees that it was initially (and for many centuries to come) a style of thinking limited mostly to elite theologians. It was only with the Enlightenment that the the Axial Age ideals started to take hold more clearly and science provided a new paradigm by which metaphorical thinking could be contrasted.

    In response to science, the idea of religious literalism arose as entirely distinct from allegorical interpretation. It’s not that literalist thinking didn’t exist to an extent earlier, but it only became an ideology unto itself in modern times.

    Armstrong isn’t an enemy of atheism. The only thing she is an enemy of is closed-mindedeness and simplistic thinking. Her criticism of the New Atheists isn’t a criticism of atheism in general. She is simply pointing out that certain arguments made by some popular atheists aren’t the best arguments to be made. Her main issue is that, by talking about religion in literalist terms, the atheist just plays into the hands of literalist fundamentalists. She wants to undermine religious literalism at it’s base. She wants to show fundamentalism for what it is by showing how it developed.

    But don’t take my word for it. Read some of her books first and then see if you still entirely disagree with her.

    • Your comment is full of straw-men arguments, as would be expected from religious apologists. I understand that you prefer ignoring certain facts to perceive an interpretation of reality that is more to your liking. That interpretation is, unfortunately, not representative the world we live in.

      For example, you say “She isn’t against rationality and science. What she supports is making subtle intellectual distinctions in order to create a rational context to discuss otherwise non-rational issues. “

      Of course, Armstrong doesn’t say she is against science. I never claimed this. She is completely misrepresenting it’s place in history, that’s all. What is even more outrageous is the next claim. I am amused at how you built your assumptions into the statement while cloaking Armstrong’s revisionism in the language of tolerance. Firstly, she is not so much making ‘intellectual distinctions’ as she is making stuff up. Secondly, your implicit assumption that there is no other rational context to discuss such issues is wrong. There is one very powerful rational context that is always relevant- objective reality. No preferential treatment of facts is necessary, thanks a lot (read up on sociobiology- really read- to get a rational context for understanding religious fundamentalism).

      Another place where you build in your false assumption is when you say “Her explanation of the origins of literalist fundamentalism make more sense to me than any argument I’ve come across.”

      Literalist fundamentalism was always there. It did not originate separately in religious people. It is a property of intelligent beings. When it comes to literalist believers of religion in modern society, the numbers may increase and decrease over time, but it is fairly well established that people require knowledge of facts to be able to make life-sustaining decisions. It is called being aware of the real world. Religion is the political remnant of a system of belief that told a narrative of factual events. For modern religious moderates, when it comes to everyday issues they can understand that there is such a thing as the real world and there is the emotional world, but when it comes to religion they forgo this distinction.

      Please spare me the Axial age BS. It is a half-baked hypothesis that relies on amateurish post hoc reasoning. Such ideas are designed to appeal to those who have already made up their minds. In this case, it is the mind of the religious moderate who desires above all to find a way to make all the religions work together in harmony. To understand cultural patterns on such large scales one needs to take into account a lot more real variables that Armstrong can grasp.

      The idea of human culture that Armstrong presents is very simplistic and inaccurate.

      For example, briefly, the ‘ability’ to think metaphorically evolved at least 70,000 years ago, but possibly up to 300,000 years ago. However, the ability to perceive our world around us evolved with the first intelligent ancestors we ever had. For intelligent biological organisms to survive, they needed to be convinced that certain things were true. Metaphor as a semantic tool is pointless when faced with a hungry lion. Literalism is the default setting.

      Metaphorical thinking is a powerful cultural force, found in all societies. However, none of these societies are devoid of literalism. Literalism is the infrastructure over which metaphor can be built. The metaphor is not an alternative to reality, it is an emotional and logical addendum requiring abstract thinking.

      Religious memes, as primitive socio-political systems, were bound to utilize this very human form of thought towards adding emotional strength to the factually weak packages they came in. However, the religious memes themselves were comprised of factual claims.

      The first theologians who began to look at scripture metaphorically alone (as in, no literalism at all) were smart folks. They saw that the BS in the books could not possibly be true, having observed how everything else in the natural world operates. These people were heroes, because the religion of their times was often the only belief structure available to them. As cultures evolved and came into contact with each other, more religious people would have lost literalist interpretations of their religion. This is a natural response- often the first natural response. But those first metaphorically inclined religious people were actually thinking way out of the box for their times.

      In ancient times, religion was so central to people’s lives that social life was centered around religious beliefs. ‘This’ is what they believed in, so of course ‘this’ was central. It is an insult to say that these people did not believe that stuff literally. In modern times (going back 2000 years) multicultural societies have made it possible to exist together relatively without conflict. To do this, society has reduced the role of religious beliefs in our ‘factual lives’. No longer are we required to go to the book for all questions about the universe. One can now get one’s facts from civil society and one’s emotional satisfaction from religion, if one so chooses.

      Science did not invent literalism, it merely removed any possibility of religions having any literal truth. Since the latter cannot be argued against, the former is asserted by Armstrong.

      I have little time to go into details, but there is an important factor for why religious fundamentalism has evolved a certain identity. It is called in-group behavior. It is this behavior that causes people to identify with a certain group and then defend that group through everything. This is as natural to humans as literalist thinking and metaphorical thinking are. It is a property of all social organisms. This factor is what Armstrong needs to study if she truly wants to understand what is going on with social belief patterns. How one swings is dependent on one’s values. In brief, liberals tend to think like Armstrong, often bending facts to make it seem as though all religions are really not contradicting themselves, and conservatives tend to ally with their in-group and find fault with other groups. Liberals embrace religious pluralism and conservatives embrace their in-group religion. In fact, the main reason there are fundamentalist religious literalists is that there are other religions. For a religious conservative, the main competition for souls is not from science, but from the other form of superstition. For a religious moderate, all religions are good and the competition is from reason itself. Ergo, Armstrong’s revisionism. Again, read some modern sociobiology.

      Armstrong’s book is an exercise in simplistic thinking. The nuances that you see are designed to keep you happy in your view that religious facts don’t matter because they mean something personal to you. I agree that they shouldn’t matter (mainly because they are complete bullshit), except that there will always be religious folk for whom they do, and in a literal way. Since these folk are not going to go away anytime soon, the religious moderates should stop making up straw-men arguments to bring down reason, and instead focus on educating themselves of the nature of reality.

      • After the publishing of this response,the commenter responded by ignoring my entire rational argument in favor of more confirmation bias. My statements were twisted in typical religious fashion, using the all-too-common religious dance between objective and subjective concepts in order to obscure naturalistic truth. I am not interested in arguing with religious people since there are plenty of more useful things that I can occupy myself with. The writing of this article, contrary to what religious folk may think, has nothing to do with actually arguing against religious folk and everything to do with ridiculing Armstrong’s incoherent religious apologetics. Such ridicule is well within my right, and I believe it is essential to the process of developing a strong freethought response to institutionalized superstition. In view of this, I have decided to not publish any further comments form religious folk. If you think you have won the debate, good for you. Please continue to feel good about yourself. We rationalists have our hands full trying to build real moral alternatives to religion and I would rather not waste my time arguing with those who cannot let go of primitive superstitions.

      • Merci a certains de ne pas trainer dans la boue certains d’entre nous qui ne mettent pas les accents: on a pas tous la chance d’en avoir sur l’ordi! (j’ai un qwerty, faut faire avec – j&;miuoraqserais bien pouvoir avoir un azerty!)

  • Terribly unenlightened as well as unhelpful post, Ajita.

    When can we get over this ‘if-it-aint-science-its-worthless’ attitude?

    Actually atheists and religious fundies misunderstand scripture in much the same way and for very similar reasons.

    Karen’s efforts of launching the charter for compassion is an invaluable contribution towards a proper understanding of scripture and its legitimate interpretation:

    “any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate”

    How can’t anyone not agree with this?

    • Stefan, despite your lack of evidence for why the post is ‘unenlightened’ I will treat this comment as legitimate.

      Perhaps I missed it, but where in the post did I say anything remotely implying “if-it-aint-science-its-worthless”? This is a classic case of a straw-man argument. Since I am against your version of facts, you decide to put words in my mouth? Where are you getting your facts about my opinions? it must be someplace I am yet unaware of, because that is certainly not a position that I hold.

      Let me use this opportunity to educate you that there are plenty of very meaningful and emotionally satisfying ways of looking at the world, without resorting to superstition. Please read this article if you would like an introduction to one. You may also learn a bit about my actual beliefs and save yourself the effort of having to make them up.

  • Sadly, I thought this article was serious in its opening statement. You would be surprised at how there are articles such as these, with titles such as yours, that are written in utter seriousness.

    Overall, however, very good use of humor mixed with the ability of pointing out the ridiculous nature of her “arguments.” Unfortunately, a book such as this needs to be critcized by someone. But, then again, my view of humanity at this moment is rather dim.

    Here’s to the hope of an enlightened future.

  • Love how Ajita fails to show where Armstrong is wrong, while misrepresenting her arguments.
    No, the devil was not a metaphor. But biblical literalism was unheard of until recent times, not least because of the lack of a printing press. Science- not atheism, as Ajita misrepresents the argument- did alter the state of affairs since religion tried to imitate scientific rigor.

  • @Ajita Kamal – “After the publishing of this response,the commenter responded by ignoring my entire rational argument in favor of more confirmation bias. My statements were twisted in typical religious fashion, using the all-too-common religious dance between objective and subjective concepts in order to obscure naturalistic truth.”

    I’m not religious. Discussion about the objective and subjective are common among well-educated, thoughtful people. Read some books about philosophy, social science, etc. These are complex issues requiring complex thought.

    “I am not interested in arguing with religious people since there are plenty of more useful things that I can occupy myself with. The writing of this article, contrary to what religious folk may think, has nothing to do with actually arguing against religious folk and everything to do with ridiculing Armstrong’s incoherent religious apologetics. Such ridicule is well within my right, and I believe it is essential to the process of developing a strong freethought response to institutionalized superstition.”

    I never said you don’t have a right to do so. I simply pointed out that you failed to do so effectively. My criticisms of your simplistic thinking had nothing to do with apologetics vs free thought. I’m not religious, as I’ve pointed out. It’s rather fundamentalist of you to think all non-believers must think like you and agree with you.

    “In view of this, I have decided to not publish any further comments form religious folk.”

    That wouldn’t explain why you censored my comment, as I’m not a religious folk.

    “If you think you have won the debate, good for you.”

    If you think that censoring others means you have won the debate, that is sad for you and sad for public debate in general.

    “Please continue to feel good about yourself.”

    This isn’t about your personal feelings. I realize I hurt your feelings and now you’re projecting onto me. But that entirely misses the point. I was trying to have an intelligent, informed discussion with you.

    “We rationalists have our hands full trying to build real moral alternatives to religion and I would rather not waste my time arguing with those who cannot let go of primitive superstitions.”

    It sounds like you’ve made rationalism into another religion.

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